Current Issue #487

We've got to be kind

Flickr / Davitydave
A mural of Kurt Vonnegut in Indiannapolis

With the world seeming uncertain and scary, here’s one thing to be sure about: we need to be kind to one another, even from a (social) distance.

When each of my sons were born, I welcomed them to their home planet by tearfully reciting a quote from Kurt Vonneguts God Bless You, Mr Rosewater, from a chapter in which the titular character suggested that all newborns should be given the following advice:

Hello, babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies Goddamn it, you’ve got to be kind.

Its a quote that I think about a lot. At times of great joy, as with my boys. At times of great sorrow, as with the Christchurch massacre. And its in my head right now: that in this time of enormous struggle and uncertainty, when everything seems frightening and bleak, one thing remains unchanged: Goddamn it, weve got to be kind.

And I say that because, friends, youre almost certainly feeling scared and anxious. And you know what? You are one hundred per cent correct to feel that way.

No one knows whats going to happen tomorrow, much less in a week, or a fortnight, or three months. Maybe well be all back to normal in May and be laughing about that weird period we all had to stay home for a bit. Or maybe things will never go back to the way they were.

If its the latter then history suggests that whatever we have after this will be better than what came before, so thats something – but in the meantime, you need to focus on yourself and the people around you. And thats more than enough to be getting on with.

And for once, everyone is in the same boat in these uncharted waters. We all worry about our parents, our friends, our neighbours, our colleagues. Kindness is hard in these situations, especially if were picking through empty supermarket shelves or scrolling through our anxiety-ridden socials. There are plenty of unanswered questions and no recent precedents to draw from.

Ill tell you this, though: worrying about the stuff you cant know right now isnt going to make this easier for you, or for those around you. And by youI mean me, because I am by nature a chronic over-thinker and right now I need to learn to calm the hell down. And I know Im not alone.

And much as I dont want to tell you what to do, I know that staying sane and functional is an ongoing effort (cheers for that lesson, chronic depression!) and that a forced hiatus to normal life might as well be taken as a welcome chance for some indulgent time out, especially when the alternative is blind panic.

That said, Im not going to tell you what to do, although I know that working through my to-read pile and another leisurely play through 100-odd hours of Red Dead Redemption 2 feels like some excellent self-care options right now.

For the sake of our families, especially our children, we have to do everything we can to make sure the time in isolation is remembered as that cool at-home-holiday where we did stuff together. We have to make an effort to use the glorious technology at our disposal – stuff the people sheltering from the 1918 flu would have been very glad to have – to ensure that we check in on each other.

This is a crisis which is engulfing the world. We need cool heads to deal with the immediate medical and logistical challenges, and we need our leaders to act with all the compassion and kindness they can in navigating the next few months. And you and I need to be kind: to ourselves, to the people around us, and to all the other people going through this. Which is everyone.

This too will pass, and the way that we deploy our kindness and our compassion and our care will help ensure that as many of us pass through it as healthy and sane as possible.

Goddamn it, South Australia: weve got to be kind.

Andrew P Street

Andrew P Street

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Andrew P Street is a freelance writer whose books include The Short And Excruciatingly Embarrassing Reign Of Captain Abbott (2015) and The Long And Winding Way To The Top (2017).

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